Stapleton Ad Claims Medicare-for-All Would Cost Too Much but Leaves Out Key Detail

One of Walker Stapleton's first campaign ads of the season makes a claim about health-care spending that could use some context.
One of Walker Stapleton's first campaign ads of the season makes a claim about health-care spending that could use some context. YouTube
In one of Walker Stapleton's first political ads of the season, the Republican candidate for governor attacks Jared Polis's support of a "Medicare for All" plan. Stapleton claims his Democratic opponent would have to "double income taxes, and that wouldn't even be enough to pay for it."

Without context, that's likely to scare a few voters. But based on the same study that factoid comes from, a universal health-care plan like the one proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders would actually save Americans money, analyses by the People's Policy Project and Vox show.

The claim in Stapleton's ad is based on a study by right-wing think tank the Mercatus Center (which is funded by David and Charles Koch, by the way). There's text in the righthand corner of the ad that you might not be able to read if you're watching on TV, but it cites a Wall Street Journal editorial from August 1 by Charles Blahous, a senior research strategist at the Mercatus Center. (Oddly, Stapleton's ad also cites a Westword Q&A with Polis from August 14. In it, Polis didn't say anything about doubling income taxes, but he did talk about his support of taxpayer-funded health care in general.)

The study by the Mercatus Center analyzed the cost of Sanders's "Medicare for All" proposal and claims the bill would increase health-care spending by $32 trillion over ten years. But the same study also says the current path we are on will cost more.

An op-ed by Dr. Louis Balizet that ran in the Pueblo Chieftain on September 4 and wa  posted by the Physicians for A National Health Program gets into the nitty-gritty. Balizet claims the study underestimates the savings nearly everyone would see from being free from the shackles of private health insurers. Hospitals, doctors and pharmacies would no longer have to fund complex and enormous billing, coding and collections systems, an estimated $5 trillion in savings. The national government also would be able to negotiate the price of drugs, rather than letting drug companies charge whatever the market will bear, Balizet claims. Not to mention, private companies wouldn't have to go through costly negotiations with private insurers and potential premium increases every year.

"What the Mercatus Center study, and one with a similar conclusion from the Urban Institute, fail to recognize is that while federal taxes would certainly go up (just not by $32 trillion a year), money spent on insurance premiums would virtually disappear. The net result for most Americans would be that money would be directed to health-care decreases," Balizet writes.

The GOP is also parroting the same line in advertisements against Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. Many of the headlines about the Mercatus Study failed to put the study in context and ran with "$32 trillion over ten years." While it's true that a universal health-care system would cost a lot, it's not necessarily true that the one we have now would cost less. Stapleton hasn't responded to questions about the claims in the ad — or questions about how to save Americans money on health care — but we will update this story if he does. 
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Paige Yowell joined Westword as a staff writer in 2018. Born and raised in Nebraska, she previously worked as a business reporter for the Omaha World-Herald.
Contact: Paige Yowell